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Monday, March 10, 2008

Eddie Curran and 60 Minutes, Revisited

Let's look at a few more interesting points raised by the letter from Mobile Press-Register Eddie Curran to 60 Minutes, regarding the news magazine's story on the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

We're probably giving Curran's missive more attention than it deserves. But our guy Eddie is the reporter who is credited with sparking the investigation that led to Siegelman's conviction. Can we better understand the Siegelman prosecution if we understand the mindset of the reporter who "broke" the story?

Let's take a look by examining some of Curran's key points:

Eddie Curran: Siegelman attorney Doug Jones, who was interviewed extensively for the 60 Minutes piece, did not represent Siegelman at the trial and did not attend the proceedings. That is a big deal.

Legal Schnauzer: My experience with courts tells me that attending a trial is overrated. On my coverage of the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, I've had readers state that they were at the trial and I wasn't--therefore, they knew way more about the case than I did. If you have read the indictment, the trial transcript, and studied the relevant law, you are far more likely to know what went on at a trial than if you merely attended the trial. Attending a trial without knowing the law and issues involved is like attending a baseball game without knowing the rules of the sport. You aren't likely to get all that much out of it. The mere fact Doug Jones didn't attend the trial doesn't mean he's a poor source for the issues raised by the Sigelman case.

EC: Corroborating evidence is all important. Republican whistleblower Jill Simpson is not to be believed because her statements are not backed with corroborating evidence.

LS: Curran is the master of the double standard. He chastises 60 Minutes for failing to present corroborating evidence regarding Simpson's statements. But Curran himself? He says in his letter that Richard Scrushy gave a check to Don Siegelman at a second meeting, not the first one referenced by 60 Minutes. Does Curran provide any evidence to support that claim? Nope. He could have quoted his own stories, assuming they support his claims regarding the check and Doug Jones' statements. But Curran doesn't do it.

EC: The fact that Jill Simpson has testified and answered questions under oath indicates nothing about the truthfulness of her story.

LS: Curran evidently doesn't think people have anything to fear from perjury charges. He might want to check with Roger Clemens about that. And an attorney who perjures herself has much more to lose than a baseball player would for the same offense. Perjury is a felony, and a lawyer who is found guilty of a felony would lose her license--probably for quite some time. Simpson is putting her livelihood on the line. That should say something about the strength of her story.

EC: Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods is a friend of Siegelman's, and that means you can't trust Woods' statements about the weakness of the prosecution's case.

LS: Jeepers, talk about a double standard. We have numerous reports that, as governor, Don Siegelman caused Mark Fuller's activities to be investigated. There is reason to believe Fuller holds a serious grudge against Siegelman. But Curran has no problem with Fuller presiding over the Siegelman trial. We know that Bill Canary served as an advisor to Bob Riley, Siegelman's opponent for governor. But Curran evidently sees no problem with Canary's wife, Leura, overseeing the Siegelman prosecution. But Grant Woods, supposedly a friend of Siegelman's (even though Woods is a member of the opposing political party), makes supportive statements regarding Siegelman on national TV? Now that's something to really be concerned about!

EC: The Siegelman administration was beset by numerous scandals, involving everything from landfills to warehouses to motorcycles.

LS: Curran says these are scandals, but nowhere in his letter does he say what laws were broken in each case. I haven't read all of the 100-plus investigative articles Curran wrote about the Siegelman administration. But the ones I have read follow a similar pattern. Siegelman and associates are portrayed as "wheeler-dealers," but Curran never states what laws are broken. I suspect if one chronicled most any governor closely enough--and this includes Bob Riley--you could make them look like wheeler-dealers. After all, that's kind of what governors do--they wheel and deal--with legislators, business people, constituents, and so on. The issue in the Siegelman case is: Did he violate the law. And the actual law is a subject that doesn't seem to hold Curran's interest.

EC: When Jill Simpson alleged that Karl Rove had asked her to come up with evidence of Siegelman cheating on his wife, 60 Minutes failed to ask key followup questions. Such questions include: Does she have records of trips she made in order to follow Siegelman? Who paid for her surveillance? How did she follow Siegelman? Without asking these questions, and getting appropriate answers, 60 Minutes gives viewers little reason to believe Simpson's story.

LS: Curran has a point with this one. The questions he lists are legitimate ones that should have been raised with Simpson. My guess is that these questions were asked, but the answers were left out of the show because it was trying to cover a complex story in only 14 minutes. Perhaps a better criticism of 60 Minutes on this score would be: Why include the sex allegation at all? It had little, if anything, to do with the main issues raised by the story. And if you don't have time to fully explore the issue, it's probably best to leave it out. A better use of that time might have been to address the numerous conflicts of interest U.S. Judge Mark Fuller had in the case. Perhaps 60 Minutes should have interviewed Missouri attorney Paul Benton Weeks about his affidavit alleging behavior that is certainly unethical, and probably criminal, by Judge Fuller.

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